Monday, July 25, 2011

The Cuban Way

Part I: More Government, Less Food

A Cuban beggar.

When was the last time you wondered if you would be able to feed your family?

Fortunately, for the majority of Americans, that thought never occurs, or is rarely a problem. If mom can’t cook the meal, there is always the local grocery store, fast food joint, or sit-down restaurant. Not so in Cuba.

Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban blogger and author, has dedicated herself to shedding light on the day-to-day trials and tribulations in Cuba. Her newest book, Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today, lifts the veil on everyday life in Havana, painting a vivid picture of the hardships of life under the Castro regime.

One of the biggest struggles in Cuba is the government-inflicted food shortage. According to Sanchez, Cubans have an obsession with food. Not like America—where people can eat three hamburgers in a sitting or an entire pizza in one meal. Nor does this obsession include fine wine and perfectly seared steak. Instead, it is merely the dire necessity to have something to eat.

Sanchez says that a Cuban meal often consists of rice with a beef or chicken bouillon cube. One little cube, she reflects, “make[s] me believe that my rice contains a tasty rib or a piece of chicken.” This simple bouillon cube is almost a delicacy in a market where spices and meats frequently run out.

Why the shortage in food? The Cuban government promises to take care of every social need—including food. From cradle to grave, the Cuban government rations out food to its people, allowing only miniscule portions per family. Sanchez noted, “[I]f the 66 million pounds of rice they distribute every month, through the ration, were available to the free market, prices in the latter would go down.” But the government monopoly leaves prices high and food out of reach of hungry Cubans.

In fact, the government-issued wages rise in accordance with increases in food prices. Since both prices and wages are set by the State, an increase in wages is generally offset by an increase in food prices.

The state micromanagement of the Cuban agricultural sector causes the island to import 80 percent of the food it rations. Government rationing has been in place since 1962, and, “Contrary to popular belief, the Cuban ration system does not provide Cubans with ‘free’ food…Rations are limited to a paltry amount of a meager number of pathetic food-stuffs.” This forces many Cubans to find roundabout ways to acquire food.

Another fact of Cuban life under socialism: Everyone except the upper echelon of the government heads for the black market.

Purchasing from the Cuban black market is not done out of a desire to buck the system, but out of pure necessity. Sanchez wrote, “I can’t live a day without the black market.” Since the government refuses to provide certain services, such as repairing a washing machine or fixing the oven or shower, Cubans are forced to use or become underground workers. Sanchez noted that obtaining products as basic as eggs, milk, or cooking oil require a visit to the black market.

A popular joke says Cuban communism has solved all but three problems: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In reality, this is no joke. Life in Cuba is not easy, and it forces many to take extreme measures just to maintain their existence. But the Castro regime holds its citizens in the jaws of a dilemma where they “cannot both survive and comply with [Cuban] law, at the same time.”

Want to see a government that promises to care for your every need? You don’t need to look farther than 90 miles south of the Florida Keys.

Part II: Big Brother’s Repressive Hand

Castro often uses thugs to repress the opposition.

Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984 still lives, and he’s right in our backyard. Yoani Sanchez has documented how Big Brother works through her depiction of the Cuban government in her new book Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today.

Cuban repression often takes the form of a group of thugs rather than the organized police. It targets people who are outspoken and harbor anti-regime opinions. Even Sanchez and her friends were kidnapped and beaten because of their blogging and their opposition to the Castro regime.

Sanchez wrote, “How can I describe the despotic faces of those who forced us into that car [or] their visible enjoyment as they beat us.” Bruised and in pain, Yoani and her companions emerged from the kidnapping with emotional and mental wounds. The message is clear: Against us you have no rights; our power is limitless.

Beyond kidnappings, Cubans are frequently imprisoned without warrant:
Over the years, hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned in Cuba for the peaceful expression of their views.… Harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and criminal prosecutions, all continue to be used to restrict the expression of views critical of the government.
Government regulation of the Internet has severely limited Cubans’ ability to communicate with each other and the outside world. Twitter, Facebook, and even Sanchez’s blog, Generation Y, are blocked by Cuban authorities. Access is highly restricted as well. In Havana, many native Cubans must resort to dressing as tourists or speaking foreign languages just to get past the guards in Internet cafes.

So what does Big Brother want? He wants a cadre of true believers who will run the party, the state, and the army as organs of repression. He wants worker bees who will labor for the glory of the hive. He wants other Cubans to remain apathetic and fatalistic.

As Sanchez notes, “The person who complains or demands his rights is seen as ‘some kind of weirdo.’” Sanchez further observes a general malaise that can be seen through the Cuban choice of language. She says that phrases like “Don’t sweat it,” “You’ll give yourself a heart attack,” “Just ignore it,” and “That’s not going to accomplish anything” are sayings frequently heard in Cuban culture. Reflected in the language of many in Cuba is a worn-out spirit that has lost its will to fight for what truly matters: freedom.

This the way the Castro brothers want it.

By Olivia Snow

Source: The Foundry

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